Frontline workers, including myself, have had to watch families break into pieces as they deliver the very worst of news – that those they love the most have died.
Having been an A&E doctor and a humanitarian doctor working in disaster zones across the world, I have become used to death. I have become used to the painful, universal sound of a person losing a loved one. I have become used to seeing the expression change in someone’s eyes when they realise their relative has gone for good. It does not get any easier, but it is an honour, as a medic, to be able to offer comfort to relatives in their time of greatest need.
Medics who are delivering this tragic news day after day are seeing the startling effects of this virus, and the effects of the government strategy first-hand.
So when in the House of Commons yesterday, I reflected the concerns of many of my frontline colleagues and asked the health secretary Matthew Hancock about his government’s almost non-existent testing strategy, I didn’t expect him to try to police my tone of voice.
The facts are clear. Community testing was scrapped, mass testing was slow to roll out, and testing figures are now being manipulated.
We all want the government to succeed in tackling this virus and save as many lives as possible, but these are genuine concerns which cannot simply be deflected by ministers.
In order to get ahead of this virus, mass testing is vital. It is disappointing then, that in the last few days, the government has not been close to meeting its 100,000 tests a day target – this was not supposed to be a one-off, on the last day of April – but a staging post to a much bigger number. Boris Johnson previously stated the aim of hitting 250,000 tests a day.
I’m not here to make this personal. I don’t want or need an apology from Matthew Hancock for critiquing my tone.
Testing serves a vital purpose – and among frontline staff, access to tests so they can get back to work once they have the all clear is crucial.
I have had to speak to relatives over the phone to tell them that their loved one is dying. If a hospital has the ability to allow a family member to come and say goodbye, the family has the agonising decision of which family member to choose, as only one visitor is allowed. Behind full PPE, with only my eyes visible, I cannot comfort a relative like I used to; I cannot offer a hug for moral support; I cannot stand within two metres. The sadness and anger after a shift, that some of these deaths could have been completely avoided haunts you.
As an MP and as a doctor, I have a duty to ask the government the kind of questions the frontline are asking. If my colleagues feel a lack of testing has cost lives, I will ask about that.
I’m not here to make this personal. I don’t want or need an apology from Matthew Hancock for critiquing my tone. The only thing I want is the government to fulfil its duty of care to the NHS and healthcare staff and support them through this crisis.
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is MP for Tooting and Labour’s shadow minister for mental health.